Guiding Light
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

There is no getting around the fact that when you moderate an online community, you will tell people what they cannot do on the community. People try to sugar coat this, but there’s no point in that. A community where anyone can do anything is a community without aspiration.

But you can also take these moments and use them as an opportunity to help the member to use your community better. This might be best achieved through the use of contact templates, which are private messages that staff members send to a member, explaining why a post has been removed.

It is sort of a natural end result. Telling someone that an action isn’t OK informs them about the guidelines and makes it less likely that it’ll happen again. But you can take it to another level with the information that you include in the private message itself. You don’t want the messages to be cryptic, you want to make sure that people understand what the violation is and, if appropriate, what the proper action would have been. Here are some examples:

  • If a post was removed due to cross posting, explain what cross posting is (posting the same content in two or more locations).
  • If a post was removed due to hotlinking, explain what hotlinking is and how the member can avoid it. Instead of linking images to servers that you may not have permission to link to, you could use these free image hosts that allow hotlinking (and you could provide links to said hosts).
  • If a post was removed due to copyright infringement because the member copied and pasted a full text article, explain to them how to properly cite an article. How much is generally safe to quote? (I go with 1/5 or 1/6 of an article). Should they link to the full article? (Yes, always).
  • If a post was removed due to profanity, do you allow the word to be said if it is self-censored or abbreviated? If not, say so. People may assume that the word is OK if they put a couple of asterisks in it and your message will help them avoid that pitfall.

What I’m saying is that there is a way to be proactive in your contact templates and some issues really benefit from it. If you simply say X was a violation, that’s OK, but what if you explain what X is and educate them on how to properly take care of X? You won’t only be saying you can’t do something, you’ll also be helping them to understand how to add value to your community in a more productive way.